North London Group

Current Issues & Reports

Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, writes:
David Cameron is mistaken when he says “Britain is a Christian country” and that we should be “evangelical” about Christianity.
 That’s why I joined over 50 prominent writers, scientists and academics to sign a critical letter to the Prime Minister.
 The letter was organised by the British Humanist Association.
 We acknowledge that Christians make a contribution to UK society but so do people of other faiths and no faith.
It is wrong for David Cameron to single out Christians for special praise, to offer them privileged access to Downing Street and to support an expanded role for Christian groups in providing essential public services.
He’s also misguided to suggest Britain should be evangelise Christianity. This sounds like proselytising. It makes him comes across as partisan, favouring one faith over all others.
Britain was once a mostly Christian nation but no more.
A YouGov poll in 2011 asked: Are you religious? Only 29% said yes (and many of these belonged to non-Christian faiths). 65% said no.
The 2011 census asked a rather leading question on religion and got a different result. 59% said they were Christian. But most of these identify as Christian culturally, not religiously. Moreover, this is a big drop from the previous census in 2001, when 72% identified as Christian - a loss of 4.1 million people claiming Christian adherence.
Ticking a box on a census form is easy. It is not the same as actually practising Christianity. It is religious practice, not tick boxing, that’s the real test of whether we are still a Christian country.
In fact, only 7% of the population are practising Christians. A mere 2% go to church on Sunday. The number of practising Muslims in the UK is now almost as great as the number of practising Christians - around 2 million versus 2.5 million.
In addition, Christian anniversaries like Easter and Christmas are not celebrated by most people as religious festivals. They are just holidays like any other holiday - mostly an excuse for a lie-in, shopping, watching football and other non-religious indulgences. The vast majority of people don’t pray or go to church on these occasions.
For all these reasons, by no stretch of the imagination can Britain be said to be a Christian country.
Britain is, in fact, a multifaith and no faith society. Christians are just one part of our plural, diverse culture. It is best for everyone, including people of faith, if the state is neutral on matters of religion; not favouring or privileging one religion over others. This way there is a level playing field for people of all faiths and none.
The idea the Britain has always been Christian is untrue. Humans have been in the British Isles for around 40,000 years. Christianity has been here for less than 2,000 years - a small fraction of British history.
Far from being the repository of great moral virtue and leadership, as David Cameron has suggested, the social and political influence of many Christians has been often malign. In feudal times, the churches supported the tyranny of absolute monarchs - and later slavery and colonialism. They opposed votes for women and gay equality. Indeed, only last year they fought an intolerant, bigoted campaign to retain homophobic discrimination and prevent same-sex couples getting married.
Some Christians have been very good on issues like poverty, welfare reform and justice for poorer countries. But many non-Christians have also been good on these issues. Commendable humanitarian organisations like the Child Poverty Action Group, War on Want and Amnesty International include people of all faiths and none.
Some of my critics claim that I and other humanists persecute Christians. Not true. On free speech grounds, I have been vocal in opposing the criminalisation and prosecution of Christian street preachers, such as Harry Hammond and Dale McAlpine - despite their homophobia - even offering to testify in their defence in court. I’ve also been involved in campaigns defending persecuted Christians in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
We humanists believe that freedom of religion - and non-religion - is a fundamental human right.

  Peter Tatchell is Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.  For more information about his human rights work, to receive his campaign bulletins or to make a donation:

Number of non-believers in Britain rising

The Times took advantage of the Christmas season to check on the current level of belief in God in Britain.  It commissioned YouGov to run an online poll among a sample of 1,505 adults on 18-19 December 2016.  Belief in God or a higher spiritual power was expressed by 28%, four points less than in February 2015, while avowed disbelief had risen over the same period from 33% to 38%.

A further 20% believed in some sort of spiritual power but not in God, and 14% were unsure what to think.  Disbelief peaked among 18-24s (46%) and men (50%). 

                              See print edition of The Times for 23rd December:



Religion and the Failure of Politics:     Author: David Flint

I’m a humanist and I see both politics and religion as ways in which humanity has tried to organise its collective life. Historically they are intertwined and have often supported each other. The Queen’s role as head of the Anglican Church is one small residue of this.

Today we generally see them as separate though with some, often contentious, overlaps. For brevity, and knowing that I’m over-simplifying, I’ll distinguish two ways in which religion can influence politics. Firstly, religion gives people a sharp sense of compassion and motivate them to use political processes to, for instance, house the homeless, feed the starving, reform prisons and abolish slavery. I’ll call these people ‘God’s Reformers’. They have done a lot of valuable work but we should note that they have generally been a minority and have often had to fight the social conservatism of their fellow religionists. God’s reformers have become significant since The Enlightenment.

Secondly, religion makes some people believe that they alone know God’s will and that everyone should be forced to do it. I’ll call them God’s stormtroopers. They have brought down governments, introduced Prohibition, persecuted witches, demolished the twin towers and created tyrannies. Today, in the UK, they resist gay marriage and the choice of an easy death in old age. They have previously resisted law reforms concerning contraception, abortion and homosexuality. (Isn’t it surprising how much they worry about sex?) Like God’s reformers, God’s stormtroopers are a minority amongst believers but it is a minority that often includes the most senior people in the ‘faith community’. They are unreasonably influential because they claim privileged knowledge of God’s will, because the state accords them special respect and because the media fail to hold them to account.

God’s stormtroopers are particularly problematic in a democracy – even such a flawed one as our own. They are strongly motivated, immune to persuasion and see any compromise as betrayal. Yet caution, reasoned discussion, a willingness to be persuaded and, inevitably, a willingness to compromise are vital democratic values. And their hostility to these values is not incidental – it is fundamental. As John Knox put it “A man with God is always in the majority.” Osama bin Laden would not have disagreed. The logic of infinity – eternal life and an omnipotent God – trumps all ordinary arguments.

As a humanist I welcome and honour the contribution that God’s reformers have made to public life. Humanists claim no monopoly on compassion or good sense and God’s reformers generally use arguments I understand – even when their language is religious.

But I must resist the claims of God’s stormtroopers – even on those rare occasions when we finish on the same side. I resist these claims not just because they lead to oppressive conclusions but because to accept them is ultimately inconsistent with democratic politics; that is, with letting the people decide the laws that will govern them.

And I believe that all democrats and liberals, of whatever party or faith, should resist them too.

(From National Secular Society )



Casey Review:

(A long publication but the summary is worth a read!)

New poll shows one in five are humanists, and a third hold humanist beliefs


22% of the UK population meet the definition of a humanist exactly, new YouGov research finds.